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May 9: New England, North Dakota

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The website for New England, North Dakota describes the town as “a small, friendly community in the heart of gold wheat fields, shadowed by the raw beauty of the Rainy Buttes.” The first settlement in Hettinger County, New England was founded in 1887. The name of the town reflects the early pioneers that came from the New England states of Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

On this date in 1911, the Bismarck Tribune printed a story about the history of New England. H.C. Fish was curious about the settlement and reported on his examination of the town’s early records. In 1887, hopeful settlers hired Captain J.G. Saunders to survey a townsite in Hettinger County. Their plan was to found a town and help families from New England relocate to Dakota Territory. Arriving in the area in April, the settlers found considerable snow on the ground as they neared the Cannon Ball River. They found shelter with George Muzzy, an old buffalo hunter and the only resident of Hettinger County. Muzzy was not impressed with the newcomers and called them “tenderfeet.”

More settlers soon arrived. In honor of their origins, the new town was dubbed “New England City.” When it was time to establish a post office, the Postal Department sought to shorten the name and suggested “Mayflower.” The residents resisted, and as a compromise the word “city” was dropped.

The residents celebrated their first Independence Day as Dakotans with a picnic on top of Rainey Butte. They quickly erected homes, built a church, and established a newspaper.

The railroad arrived in 1910, attracting more newcomers. New businesses included hotels, restaurants, grain elevators, stores, and livery barns. Fraternal associations were organized. More churches were built and schools were opened. New England became recognized as a prosperous place to live and do businesses.

But just as the railroad spurred New England’s growth, it was also responsible for the downsizing of the town when the tracks were abandoned in 1983. At one time, more than twelve hundred people lived in New England. Today there are about six hundred permanent residents. But with opportunities for boating, fishing, hunting, and camping, New England is still recognized as an attractive recreational destination.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


  • Bismarck Daily Tribune. “Curator Fish Digs Up Interesting Early History of New England.” Bismarck ND. 5/9/1911. Page 2.
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune. “New England, North Dakota.” Bismarck ND. 9/5/1911. Page 2.
  • New England. “About New England.” https://ndnewengland.com/about/ Accessed 3/29/24.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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